Home is where the heart is, even for Kenyan street kids

Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec are in Kenya on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Young men walk outside the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi-run Ukweli Home of Hope for boys in Nairobi. The home takes in 25 boys living on the streets and gives them shelter, food, education, medical care, guidance and counseling. The program has several success stories, with boys going on to college and professional careers. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Young men walk outside the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi-run Ukweli Home of Hope for boys in Nairobi. The home takes in 25 boys living on the streets and gives them shelter, food, education, medical care, guidance and counseling. The program has several success stories, with boys going on to college and professional careers. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Twenty-five African boys, ages 5-16, clustered excitedly around the visiting Americans, smiling, shaking hands and welcoming them.

The U.S. diocesan mission directors were enthralled with the boys, residents of the Ukweli Home of Hope for street children. The boys were just as enchanted with their guests.

Deacon Ed Kelly of Scranton, Pa., was talking sports, discovering that the youths knew Kenyans often won the Boston Marathon.

Msgr. Francis X. Blood of St. Louis and Heather Lupinacci of Harrisburg, Pa., were taking photos of the boys. Father John Zemelko of Gary, Ind., stood between the two photographers, making rabbit ears behind their heads to make the youths smile. Father Donald LaPointe of Springfield, Mass., was teaching the boys to give high fives.

And inside, Msgr. John E. Kozar, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, was greeted with howls from boys who recognized him from an archdiocesan Mass two days earlier.

Sister Catherine Wanza walks wtih Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert on the grounds of the Ukweli Home of Hope in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Sister Catherine Wanza walks with Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert on the grounds of the Ukweli Home of Hope in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The Ukweli Home of Hope project, begun by Maryknoll in 1995, is now run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Sister Catherine Wanza, project director, said the sisters moved the project out of Kibera slum in 2005 because the boys were falling back into their old behaviors such as taking drugs and sniffing glue. In addition, there were physical problems such as water shortages and crowding in Kibera.

Today, the boys live in small concrete and corrugated tin buildings on the grounds of the headquarters of the sisters. They go to public schools in the area, and those that go to secondary school are normally sent to boarding school.

“They volunteered to come,” Sister Catherine told the visitors. As her charges go off to school, she tells them to “prove to them that you are no longer a street boy.” She proudly says eight of those who came through the program are in college, including one in the United States.

Life on the streets, competition for grades and gratefulness to the sisters for their care all came through in the children’s skits for the visitors. Several young men showed a flair for the dramatic, and one skit even showed famous Kenyan politicians arguing over the fate of a street boy.

The visitors were touched and, later, Michele Meiers of Philadelphia joked about the minor miracle that occurred. She found in her bag 25 rosaries made by eighth graders at St. Alphonsus School in Maple Glen, Pa., so each boy received one. She thought she had given them all away.

And Father Bill Holoubek of Lincoln, Neb., thought he had nothing left, but dug into his bag and found just enough Miraculous Medals for the boys. He gave each of them a medal — blessed by the pope — and taught them the special prayer that goes with it.

Nairobi’s Catholic children talk about mission

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, and Nancy Wiechec, CNS visual media manager, are visiting Kenya with 10 members of  U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

NAIROBI, Kenya — More than 30,000 children of the Archdiocese of Nairobi joined Cardinal John Njue today as they celebrated Missionary Childhood Day. The children, members of the Pontifical Missionary Childhood — known in the United States as the Holy Childhood Association — are taught that they are all missionaries. Listen here as some of the children speak about what being a missionary means to them.

In Kenya, web-savvy seminarians with no Internet

NAIROBI, Kenya — Can you imagine being in a master’s or PhD class in a college that did not have access to the Internet?

That, in essence, is the situation at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, which doubles as one of Kenya’s national seminaries and the seminary of the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Fourth-year theology student Richard Odhiambo is among the 125 men studying for the priesthood at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. Odhiambo looked up for a photo while studying for an exam in moral theology. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Fourth-year theology student Richard Odhiambo is among the 125 men studying for the priesthood at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. Odhiambo looked up for a photo while studying for an exam in moral theology. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Someone donated 27 refurbished computers to the seminary, but the more than 100 students basically use them as word processors, said one seminary official.

Father Dunstan Epaalat, the IT department coordinator at the seminary, said the latest estimate for a one-time wiring of the seminary was just over $8,000 — well outside the seminary budget.

One professor at the seminary indicated that students are quite Internet savvy and have even fixed his computer. Seminarian John Abraham Ayieko told a delegation from the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States that social media is very important, and that future priests will be writing blogs like his to evangelize.

“We might not meet the youth of the world in the church, but we meet them on Facebook,” he said.

The seminary’s library has fewer than 10 rows of bookshelves, and most of the books are very old. One student was studying for an exam associated with the Pontifical Urbanian University with an inch-thick sheaf of papers containing a handwritten outline and notes.

Father Joseph Njoroge Ngugi quizzes seminarian Samuel Lima on his Greek lesson during a class at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Joseph Njoroge Ngugi quizzes seminarian Samuel Lima on his Greek lesson during a class at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Celestino Bundi, head of the Pontifical Missionary Societies in Kenya, said St. Thomas Aquinas seminary is a recipient of aid from the Society of St. Peter Apostle, one of four agencies associated with the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Father Bundi and Msgr. John E. Kozar, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, meet at the Vatican to go over applications to the various funds and choose projects that exhibit the most need. Msgr. Kozar told the delegation of mission directors from the United States in mid-February that in some seminaries around the world, students might only have a bowl of rice for a meal, or they might be eating exposed to the elements.

In a meeting Feb. 18, Msgr. Francis X. Blood, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, asked Nairobi Cardinal John Njue for advice on prioritizing all the mission appeals that cross his desk back home.

“Projects that focus on deepening of the faith” take priority, said the cardinal. In addition, he said, “the issue of the formation of the priests is so vital,” because “if the priests are shaky” when facing the challenges to the church, it will “trickle down.”

Pope’s book to be released at the Vatican March 10

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth. Part Two. Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” will be launched with a Vatican press conference March 10, the Vatican press office announced today.

In an unusual move, the press office will open in the evening to host the 5 p.m. conference; a morning press conference would have conflicted with Pope Benedict’s annual Lenten meeting with the clergy of Rome.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Vatican said the pope’s new tome on Jesus will be presented by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Claudio Magris, an Italian scholar and essayist whose research has focused on German-language literature.

The pope’s first volume on Jesus of Nazareth looked at the period between his baptism and the Transfiguration and was published in 2007; a third volume, reportedly already being written, will look at Jesus’ childhood.

Canadian who advised Vatican on nuclear disarmament nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Douglas Roche, an adviser to the Vatican on nuclear disarmament and the threat of nuclear weapons for more than two decades, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A former Canadian politician and ambassador from Canada to the United Nations Disarmament Commission, Roche was nominated by the International Peace Bureau in Geneva.

The organization, which is dedicated to ending all war, said its nomination was based on Roche’s devotion throughout his public life to disarmament.

“Aside from existing Nobel laureates, it is hard to think of a single individual who has worked as hard for disarmament as he, and with such persistence and determination, at the top levels of world politics,” the organization said on its website.

Roche has served as a member of the Vatican’s delegation to the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and its preparatory meetings.

He also has worked alongside members of Pax Christi International and Pax Christi USA on disarmament efforts.

David Robinson, executive director of Pax Christi USA, told Catholic News Service he was excited by the nomination.

“He’s been an ally of Pax Christi,” Robinson said. “This is a big deal.”

The Nobel committee will announce its selection in the fall.

Getting to know parishioners over dinner

What better way to get to know fellow parishioners than over the kitchen table?  That’s the idea of  a  parish in St. Paul, Minn., which hosts monthly “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events for parishioners recently highlighted by The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. 

Bill and Patty Flynn serve lasagna to Jo Burr and her husband, Chris, during a dinner the Flynns hosted Feb. 12.

About 100 parishioners at the Church of St. Joseph are signed on to this program and once a month a group of  them meets for potluck dinner at another parishioner’s house.   The guest list is kept a surprise: Only the hosts’ address is provided and their names and the names of the guests aren’t shared with participants.

Father Michael Creagan, pastor at St. Joseph and recent first-time dinner host,  is a fan of the program. “In many ways, the local parish is like a family, and these events are certainly bringing our family closer together,” he said. “I am always im­pressed when I participate in the din­ners and find people who are married, single, older and young.”

One parishioner and dinner participant said the idea of meeting people in small groups is “really appealing,” especially in a large parish such as St. Joseph’s.

Patty Flynn, the parishioner who got these dinners started,  said the program’s success is the result of the casual, low-key settings of the dinners.

“When you are sitting around the table together, everyone is part of the conversation. There is no agenda and people can just get to know one another in an informal way,” she said. “It can really become a basis for building relationships.”

Chris Burr, another dinner club member, called the meals one of his best parish experiences.

“You get the chance to talk to people for more than 15 minutes at a time,” he said. “The conversations can bounce from sports to politics to religion, and you can just spend time with people.”

Sounds of a Mass celebration in Kenya

A altar server carries a candle at the start of Mass at St. Mary's Parish in the informal settlement of Mukuru Kwa Njenga in Nairobi Feb. 13. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

CNS international editor Barb Fraze, who blogged on Saturday about her arrival in Kenya, shares with us the sounds of a typical Sunday Mass at a parish in the slums of Nairobi. (Listen above.) She notes in this podcast that the liturgy can last three hours and is punctuated with the sounds of bongos, keyboards, shakers and the spontaneous shouts of congregants. The choir practices three times a week to ensure that the liturgy is a true celebration.

Fraze and CNS visual media manager Nancy Wiechec are visiting Kenya with 10 members of U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 735 other followers